110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Lynn Bowen
posted Mar 24, 2013 - 9:49:11pm
Two female painted buntings nibbled at a seed feeder at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in November. They were varying shades of lime green. Males surely were around, but apparently not hungry at that time. They occasionally eat fruit and insects, but seeds are their main diet. They forage on grassy ground for most of their food.
The males have the reputation for being colorful and beautiful. They have blue heads, red undersides, and green backs. These cute, 5.5-inch little finches are in the cardinal family, have an 8.75-inch wingspan, and weigh only half an ounce! Their small, conical bills are adapted to feed mainly on seeds.
These very shy birds live at forest edges and in urban and agricultural environments in the southeastern U.S., the Caribbean and Central America, but they breed in the Texas area.
At breeding time, which is April through August, the male establishes a territory. Then the female builds a tiny, 2-inch cup of woven grass and plant stems. The low nest just a few feet from the ground is actually woven into vegetation in the bushes or vines for strength.
The mother incubates the three or four eggs for 10 days. When the chicks hatch, the mom feeds them insects, snails and worms since they need the protein. She alone cares for the young.
The painted buntings' predators are snakes and hawks. Since they don't camouflage very well, the buntings are secretive and hide. Many people have never seen one, yet painted buntings live in our part of Florida.
Cowbirds often lay an egg in a bunting nest (which is a mean but instinctive trait that mischievous cowbirds practice). If a cowbird hatches, the bunting mother feeds this large baby bird, and the extra energy used is detrimental to her health. However, at the end of two weeks, the buntings fledge, and if a cowbird was among the young, it flies to its natural mother. Yes, their lives would make for an avian version of Peyton Place!
Painted buntings are famous for their singing, but mostly the males are admired for looking like artists painted them with the brightest colors in their palettes. The green females are beautiful too. What a joy to get to see any of them!
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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